Saturday, September 30, 2006
Some Thoughts On United Professionals
When I recently googled "United Professionals", the first website that came up was a dotcom rather than a dotorg. Apparently, there is a consulting firm in Florida with the same name. Therein lies the problem...
The United Professionals website is a little like a brand new office building. Very sleek and, dare I say it, "professional" in its appearance, but very generic as well - and also as yet largely unoccupied with substance. The lack of material to be found on the website is no fault of United Professionals. They just started, after all. Besides, there is a web page featuring books about the white collar world. I consider this to be the best resource available thus far from the site.
But I have some misgivings about that aforementioned "generic" quality. There is a rotating slide show of color photos showing individuals of all different ages, sexes and ethnic affinities. That is as it should be - any organization would do well to court diversity, and especially to recruit the young. The problem is that United Professionals presents itself in a manner indistinguishable from the countless bland websites of consulting firms, temp agencies and other human resources firms that are entirely corporate in their nature and intentions.
The UP motto, "Professionals deserve to earn a good living", could just as easily be the advertising come-on of an IT consulting agency. Believe me, I've seen a million such websites, and I know. Cultivating this resemblance is unwise in a number of ways. For one, it prevents United Professionals from standing out - even if it were a conventional HR firm. For another, it appears to place almost no distance whatsoever between what white collar "professionals" should really be working for and what corporations cynically believe would satisfy them.
For white collar workers to call themselves "professionals" is mildly grandiose. We are not, after all, doctors, lawyers, college professors, etc. We are not part of a fraternity with rigid entrance requirements that jealously protects its own interests. We are at the mercy of those who employ us, not the other way around. I understand that this collective self-inflation is a "dignitarian" approach - in other words, an attempt to dignify and even "empower", as it were, a group in jeopardy. The irony is that this touching self-assertion might suggest to corporate leadership that we are vulnerable to flattery, that we would become docile and compliant if we were merely assured that we, too, were "professional" - that we, too, were like those manage us and control our lives. Yet this is the lie that corporations have been telling us for generations - they want to us to aspire to their condition of gray flannel superiority so that we might identify with their interests and never with our own.
My own belief is that white collar workers should present themselves first and foremost as "workers". The image to which we should adhere should not be the image of "corporate success" to which we might aspire. That is the same image that those who oppose us have of themselves - except in their case they do not aspire, they have already arrived. No cause can defend itself from the vantage point of wishful thinking. We need something different, something that reflects the reality of our lives as they are lived now, and underscores as clearly as possible the distinction between the white collar Us and the corporate Them.
Just as union labor in mid-twentieth century America reveled in its own identity as "working class" - e.g., folks who went to ballgames and had cookouts in the backyard - so should white collar workers revel in who they are now, not in what they dream to be. We should, for instance, focus on our families and on the futures of our children - for surely we toil in the tedium of our cubicle-ized careers to put our children through college, not because we love our jobs. We should wear our own unique sense of humor as a kind of armor against the temptations of mendacious corporate flattery. We should not be ashamed of expressing our own anger and dismay. United Professionals would be do better to publish outrageous anecdotes of bad bosses rather than pose as if they thought they deserved to become bosses themselves. They would do better to give us trenchant Dilbert cartoons rather than empty slogans.
United Professionals Website